The Past, Present, and Futures of Water

Course Overview

Course Title:
The Past, Present, and Futures of Water

James Salzman ’85

Section 1 Dates:
Tuesdays at 6 - 7:30 p.m. eastern
October 13 - November 10, 2020

Section 2 Dates:
Tuesdays at 4 - 5:30 p.m. eastern
October 13 - November 10, 2020

Registration Fee:

To join the waitlist, please click "register now" below. 

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Course Description

Our most precious resource, there is no substitute for water. Access to water is one of the few truly universal challenges of life. Without adequate water, crops cannot grow, animals cannot live, settlements cannot survive. This has always been so.

This course examines the different facets of this simple liquid and its very natures. We will address difficult questions pitting human rights against markets. Who owns water? How should water be owned? In times of scarcity, who gets to drink? What does “safe” water even mean and how can it be ensured in nations both rich and poor?

These are ageless questions and, in exploring them, we will span human history, from water management in early human settlements and Rome to the settling of the Western United States, the rise of bottled water and the tragedy in Flint, Michigan. In our time together, we will look at water through the prisms of history, literature, law, economics, hydrology, and public health. By the end of the course, you will fully appreciate how a clear glass of water provides a powerful prism on the human experience.

Information Links

Jim Salzman
  • About the Professor

James Salzman ’85

Jim Salzman, Yale College Class of 1985, is the Donald Bren Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law with joint appointments at the UCLA School of Law and at the School of the Environment at UC Santa Barbara. An international expert on drinking water, he frequently appears as a media commentator and has lectured on every continent. A dedicated classroom teacher, Salzman was twice selected as Professor of the Year by Duke students. He has taught at Yale, Stanford, Duke and Harvard as well as at universities in Australia, China, Israel, Italy, Portugal, and Sweden. In a dozen books and more than 100 articles and book chapters, his broad-ranging scholarship has addressed topics ranging from water to wildlife, from climate change to creating markets for ecosystems. There have been over 100,000 downloads of his articles. His book, Drinking Water: A History, is in its second edition and has been featured in Scientific American, the New York Times, the Washington Post and NPR's Weekend Edition. He is active in the fields of practice and policy, having served as a Member of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee and the National Drinking Water Advisory Committee, government-appointed bodies providing high-level counsel to the EPA Administrator, as well as advising several environmental non-profits. He and his wife, Heather Stanford (Yale College Class of '80), are avid travelers.

Syllabus & Required Readings

Week 1:
The Natures of Water

Why is water so difficult to manage?
A short history of drinking water
Water and myth

Week 2:
Water Rights

How water is owned
The settling of America
Riparian rights and prior appropriation
What about flows for the environment?

Week 3:
Water Quality

Making Sense of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act

Week 4:
Water Conflicts and Water Justice

Drinking water case studies on Flint, Michigan, and in the developing world
River case studies on the Colorado, Nile, and Mekong rivers

Week 5:
The Futures of Water

Impacts of climate change on water scarcity
How to manage in a world of drought
The role of desalination and other technologies
The market comes to the rescue?

Required Reading(s):
Drinking Water: A History (Revised Edition) - $16.95 -

Related Academy Content

Terms & Conditions

Info Accordions

Yale Alumni Academy’s Virtual Seminars meet weekly on Zoom for five, 90-minute sessions. Enrollment is limited to 20 participants. This small group format thrives on a sense of intellectual collegiality, including sharing our backgrounds and the curiosities that we bring to this course. Online courses are primarily synchronous, with live sessions focused on discussion and interactive exchange amongst faculty and fellow participants. 

Outside readings and other multi-media course materials enhance the learning experience and can be accessed via the private course website hosted on Yale’s Canvas learning platform. Participants will receive a training on the online tools, and technical support will be available throughout the program. To join the course, you will need a computer or tablet with a video camera and a high-speed internet connection. 

Alumni and friends of Yale are welcome to register for this course on a space-available, first-come, first-served basis. Once all available course slots have been filled, new registrants will be notified by email of their status on the waiting list.

No-risk cancellation is available through Wednesday, September 16th after which time, there will be no refunds issued. If Yale Alumni Academy cancels any course prior to its start, you may sign up for another course or your fee will be fully refunded.

Please be sure to complete all pages of the informational form.  You MUST choose the registration fee at the bottom of the Registration Page to properly complete registration.  Then be sure to click the final "Click to Complete Registration" button. Your reservation has not been received by the YAA until you complete payment information on final screen.  Please double check that the name of your course is correct before confirming registration. You will receive a summary email immediately after you complete your registration.

Each registration covers one person. If your spouse or family member would like to join the course, please select "Add a Guest" at the bottom of the main registration page. Please ensure you check the course name for each guest as well. You will be billed for the additional registration. If you have any questions, please contact 

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